– We will kill all Poles! – remembers the cries of Ukrainian nationalists one of the would-be victims from the village of Sławentyn in the Tarnopol province. However, among the merciless Ukrainian hackers you could also find a few heroes. Residents of the Hnilcze village saved their Polish neighbors. Probably earlier they agreed at the meeting that they would not murder Poles. Many of them paid a high price for it, because then the UPA threatened with death those who were not following their orders.
In order to understand well what happened on August 17, 1944 in the village of Hnilcze, we must move back to September 1939. Mass murders of Poles by the Ukrainian Nationalist Organization troops did not start, as it is mistaken, in 1943 in Wolynha, but already in September 1939 in the Tarnopol Voivodship. And it was not a spontaneous movement of the rebellious peasantry, as some Ukrainian historians would like, but elaborated in detail strategy. It was fully implemented only in 1943 in Volhynia, but it has its origins four years earlier in Podolia.
The Ukrainian nationalists in agreement with the Abwehr in August and in September 1939 were to lead to the revolt in the south of Kresy. The attempt was made on the 10th September in the area of Mikołajów on the Dniester. The Ukrainians conquered 10 villages, introducing the “Ukrainian authorities”. However, no further acts of insurrection took place because, after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Berlin could not afford it and forbade Ukrainians from starting the rebellion.
The first victim of mass murders was, on September 17, 1939, the village of Sławentyn in the Podhajce district in the Tarnopol province. Having learnt about a Soviet attack Ukrainian armed with hay forks, axes and knives, terrorist groups began the slaughter of their Polish neighbors. – I made dinner – says Anna Kozieł – And my mother went to the store. But I did not see her back for so long. I went out. I ran to the well and looked – it’s coming! And I say:
– Mom, where have you been so long?
And she answered:
– You know what, something will be wrong, because the Ukrainians are standing so… They always bowed, greeted, and now nothing, they just stand and look with pitchforks and with shovels. What will they dig at night?
It was the first warning sign that the time of murder was coming. However, the villagers were not prepared for it. Nobody has ever killed anyone here. Poles and Russians, and then Ukrainians lived in harmony, they were friends, they helped each other, they created families. And then suddenly such a strange behavior.
– As we sat down to supper – Kozieł continues – we heard screams:
– Run away, Poles! Ukrainians are beating us! Flee!
And so we escaped quikly. I pulled my mother out the window. In the meantime, an Ukrainian came in and hammered forks in the back of my head. The whole head in blood. They stuck me with forks under the the rib, almost to my heart, it whistled there, that big was the hole. I have a scar till today. Bolek spent the whole night on his father’s dead body. Ukrainians began to shout:
– We will kill all Poles!
On September 17, 1939, about 80 Poles were murdered in Sławenty. The murder in the second village, in Szumlany – as reported the historian Marek A. Koprowski – “began with the profanation of the Roman Catholic church. The pack broke the door of the church, from which paintings, banners, liturgical vestments and everything that was there were taken away. A few of the men were clothed in undestroyed liturgical vestments, mounted on horses, and, among mocking shouts, laughter and wild joy, they set off to the countryside. ”
On September 18, 1939, the Poles in Szumlany were murdered. Ukrainian militias also slaughtered Poles in such villages like Żuków, Urmań, Leśniki, Kuropatniki, Jakubów, Józefówka, Mazurskie Łany, Seńków Kuropatnicki, Mieczyszczów, Mużyłów, Krasuck, Hołchocze and Wyczółka …
Mass murders included three districts: Brzeżany, Podhajce and Buczacz. These were the first mass murders, the first acts of genocide. In hands of murderers appeared the same tools, which were used later to murder Poles in Wolynha: knives, forks, axes, saws, chains, bayonets, hammers, nails, cords, wires. Also tortures were the same: poking out eyes, cutting off tongues, hands, legs, genitals, heads, pulling the skin, hammering nails into skulls, nailing children’s tongues to the table, etc.
Dr Aleksander Korman writes about it precisely, listing over 350 ways of killing Poles by Ukrainian nationalists.
It is interesting why at that time, when on September 17, 1939, mass murders began in the Podhajki poviat, in located on its area Hnilcz the Ukrainians did not attack their neighbors and did not murder them. And yet they could. Certainly, the Ukrainians from Hnilcza received orders from their superiors from OUN to carry out the slaughter, but they did not do it. Even then, the attitude towards Polish neighbors was different there than elsewhere. Admittedly, young Ukrainians from the countryside performed a show of strength a bit later, calling on Polish colleagues to hand over their weapon, but when it turned out that they had no weapons, they released everyone. However, to indicate that it’s them who is ruling now, they beat up a few Poles. Still no one was stabbed with knives.
Nothing bad happened in the village also in the following years. And nearby Volhynia was on fire. From February to December 1943, the Poles from Volhynia were slaughtered. According to the studies of Ewa and Władysław Siemaszków, around 60,000 of our compatriots died. The most cruel was the bloody Sunday of July 11, 1943, when the UPA units attacked 99 towns at the same time, burning churches and murdering believers gathered at liturgies.
An Ukrainian researcher Siergiej Tkaczow wrote the book “Polish-Ukrainian population transfer 1944-1946”. He tells in it how the UPA troops attacked the purely Polish village of Panowice: “In a timely notification of the district secretary Riabenka from August 16, 1944, the provincial committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine is informed that from 15 to 16 of August 1944 the Banderites surrounded the village of Panowice and began terror; they shelled the village from all sides using machine rifles, threw grenades and set fire to 34 buildings, killed 18 people and wounded 17 “.
He is confused a bit about the numbers of dead, but the attack indeed took place on August 15, 1944. “After a few days – we read further – Riabenko informs the Provincial Committee that on August 17-18, at night, there was an assault on the village of Hnilcze. The Banderites proposed to Ukrainians to leave and hide in the forest. There were only Poles left in the village. The bandits made an assault during the night. They shelled the village with incendiary bullets from machine rifles, the inhabitants in panic spread out and the bandits robbed the village, burned it in 70 percent. and escaped to the forest. ”
Let’s correct Riabenka’s information. That night the local Ukrainians, mainly men,in fact left the village. And they really hid in the woods or in the nearby Czerwonań colony, the UPA units burned and plundered the Polish part of Hnilcza almost entirely. However, there was no mass murder here. Nearly a hundred-strong divisiont, as evidenced by testimonies from witnesses, attacked, burned and marauded the village, but did not murder Polish dwellers.
Only one man died, Józef Muszyński, accidentally. Why did this happen? Why did the assailants not murder Poles? Nowhere else has this been reported.
No one was pierced with a fork or chopped with an ax. At that time, the Volhynia slaughter spread into neighboring Eastern Galicia, the Tarnopol and Lviv regions were on fire, and the locals of one village, in the middle of this conflagration, were spared. Why?
A long time after Hnilcz there were rumors of a mysterious gathering, during which the Ukrainians decided that they would not murder Polish neighbors. Today it is just said : “they decided that they would not murder”. However, then, in 1944, in the UPA not carrying out the order meant death. Same as before for hiding Jews.
The Ukrainans of Hnilec had to know about it. And yet they made a risky decision. They showed courage and heroism. It was a disagreement on terror, a rebellion against Bandera and UPA. Only righteous people, morally worthy, could have made such an act. They showed a strong character and free will. Let’s listen to witnesses. And let’s look closely at the facts.
Just before the assault many Ukrainians warned their Polish neighbors that such a robbery would take place. And the village was large, the largest in the province. It had over 3.5 thousand of inhabitants, including Poles, who were about 1.3-1.4 thousand. What happened to them? Did they hid themeselves? A huge part escaped to Panowice. Some to Podhajec, Halicz, Stanisławów, and even Lviv. However, there still remained about 1 thousand in the village.
Who informed them about the robbery?
To Maria Srokowska, wife of Jan – Olga Misiurak.
To Klementowski – Hergot.
To Butrynowska – Czabaranko.
To Piasecka – Dowrzyńska.
The list can be continued. Many Poles hid that night in dugouts, in grain, and even in manure. Some hid in Ukrainian houses, barns and cowsheds. With the permission of the hosts, and even with their encouragement.
However, let’s get back to the meeting. Matilda and Maria Butrynowski, witnesses tell about it: “And here Czabaranko, Hływa, Kałakura and others made a meeting. Hergot was there as well. He came to us. He was not a Banderite. So wasn’t the Koziara family. When they did the meeting, they said to others who were there:
– Boys, do not make us feel ashamed. Do not murder Poles. Go and fight. And do not murder innocent, sleeping people and children.
When did they organize this meeting? Who called it? We do not know that. However, we know something much more important: that certainly such a meeting took place. And that significant words were told on it. – Before his brother Kałakura – says Butrynowska – married to a Polish woman, Mazańska, came home, his barn was already burning. One of the Banderites was at the meeting and took revenge. I do not know how Kałakura ended up, but it was their enemy.
Franciszek Zalewski and Stanisław Sługocki also spoke about the meeting. Butrynowska relates: “We had very good friends of the Ukrainians: Czabaranka, Śmicha, Hreptak, and Czerewaty. Later son of Czerewaty was killed by the Banderites because he said to them: “I will rob, I will burn, but I will not kill.”
Czerewatyj suffered a severe punishment for this. He was slayed. Butrynowska explains: – Some time later, the boys were pasturing the cows into the forest and they saw the brushwood and string. They came closer, and there was Czerewatyj. They murdered theirs. Because he did not want to kill Poles
.So Czerewatyj paid a high price for his attitude. The same as the Poles who hid Jews paid. However, he saved his dignity. He deserves respect. Him and those like him. As there were more of them. All the Ukrainians deserved not only good memories, but also monuments. They were heroes. In that situation, only the heroes behaved like that. And today not them have monuments in Ukraine, but those who told them to kill Poles, Bandera, Szuchewycz, Kłaczkiwski, Łebed ‘. Ukraine has forgotten about real heroes.
When the attack on the village was prepared, Butrynowska’s neighbor, Chabaranko, hid her in his home. A few years later, when the Poles were expelled from Hnilcza, the fate of Czabaranka was also fulfilled. The Butrynowski family found out already after the war, in Ukraine, that he hid from the Banderites.
“He dug a hole under his house,” says Butrynowska. – But they found him there. And killed. Because he was a friend of Poles.
We must also remember about it and convey this memory to Ukrainians,to new generations, so that they would know that they had noble and courageous people among their ancestors. They should be proud of them.
Maria Sumisławska confirms the worthy behavior of her neighbors. And she relates: “When the murders reached us, the Ukrainians had to make a meeting, because how else to explain the words of one of them, Jurkiewicz, who before burning Hnilcza said to Karol Klementowski:
– Karol, do not be scared. Nobody will murder you. We will rob and smoke, but we will not kill. Nothing will happen to you.
So he said the same as the son of Cherevaty.
Yet another, even optimistic message brought to the village Klementowski, a former village administrator. “We will have peace and quiet” he said. The Ukrainians transferred him this message. There was no peace admittedly, because the village was attacked, plundered and burned, but – let us repeat it again – but there were no mass murders.
Stanisław Srokowski was born in Hnilcze in 1936. He is a writer, many of his books tell about the genocide of Poles made by Ukrainian nationalists. He wrote, among others, “Hatred”, “Fear”, “Ukrainian lover”.
Tłumaczenie: Agnieszka Dyba